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Allegations a distraction for Red Bull team – Horner

By Andrew Benson and Laura Scott
BBC Sport

Christian Horner says that allegations of inappropriate and controlling behaviour against him are “a distraction” for his Red Bull team.

The Red Bull team boss is the subject of an internal investigation after complaints from a female colleague.

“Firstly, I obviously deny the allegations that have been made,” Horner, 50, told BBC Sport at the launch of Red Bull’s new car.

“But I’m going through a process and fully respect it.”

He added: “Of course it is a distraction for the team but the team are very together.”

Horner said that it was “business as normal focusing on preparing for the season ahead”.

He said he had the full backing of all Red Bull’s owners. The company is owned 51% by Thailand’s Yoovidhya family and 49% by the family of the late Dietrich Mateschitz in Austria.

Horner added: “We are one team. We are one group. The shareholders have been incredibly supportive of the team.”

And asked whether he was the right person to lead the team, he said: “Absolutely. I’ve done it for 20 years and have no doubts about that.”

Christian Horner has been Red Bull team principal since they started on the F1 grid in 2005

How did the launch go?

The allegations overshadowed the launch of Red Bull’s new Formula 1 car, the RB20, the follow-up to last year’s RB19, which together with driver Max Verstappen produced the most dominant season in F1 history.

The launch was planned many weeks ago to celebrate the 20th F1 car produced by Red Bull, and was held inside an industrial unit at the team’s Milton Keynes campus.

When the allegations against Horner emerged a couple of weeks ago, many expected the event to be called off, or at least for Horner not to be there. But it was decided to go ahead as planned.

A glitzy presentation featured highlights of the team’s two decades in F1, and interviews with Horner, chief technical officer Adrian Newey, technical director Pierre Wache and David Coulthard, who joined as a driver for Red Bull’s first season in 2005 and is now an ambassador for the company.

There was a sound-and-light show before the car was unveiled, and the new model did not disappoint in including a couple of obvious innovations that will set tongues wagging up and down the pit lane.

During the presentation, only one moment jarred, when Coulthard made a joke about Horner “getting his kit off”.

It was a reference to celebrations after the team’s first podium finish in Monaco in 2006, when Horner jumped into the swimming pool on the Red Bull barge in the harbour with only a Superman cape protecting his modesty.

But in the light of the allegations swirling around him – details of which have not been made public – it caused eyebrows to raise in the auditorium.

In his interview with BBC television, and later ones with the written media, Horner was consistent in his denials of the allegations and said: “I’m confident. If I wasn’t, I wouldn’t be here.”

But there was at least one misstep. Having told BBC Sport on camera that the allegations were a distraction, he played the idea down when speaking to a wider group of journalists.

“Look,” he said, when asked the same question. “I think at moments of uncertainty, it brings the team together and I have never seen the team more together or more supportive than it is.

“Everybody’s focused on one thing, which is the performance of that car – to go out and defend both the titles we have worked hard to achieve over the last couple of years. The car is what everybody is invested in.”

It was suggested to him that in such scenarios elsewhere a chief executive officer might be expected to step aside until any investigation had been completed. Why had that not been the case at Red Bull?

“It’s very, very clear,” Horner said. “The position of Red Bull is that it’s business as normal. Of course the allegations; there’s a process Red Bull are running through and have confirmed that process externally. But obviously there is a job to do and I deny fully the accusations that have been made and my role continues.”

Horner’s PR minder let the inquisition continue by and large. But one question did prompt an intervention.

Had any deal been offered to the complainant to shut the complaint down, Horner was asked?

“Let’s not go on with that,” the spokesperson said.

How good is the car?

The RB20 is the 20th F1 car produced by Red Bull

The car, which will start the season as strong favourite for the championship, was almost an after-thought, but attention will turn to it soon enough, when it rolls out alongside its rivals at pre-season testing in Bahrain next week.

Many will focus on the innovative cooling inlets beside the cockpit. With the whole grid pretty much following the design trend set by Red Bull in 2022, the vast majority of cars have a narrow horizontal air intake at the front of the sidepods, which are heavily undercut to channel air to the floor and rear of the car.

But Newey’s team have done something different. In seeking to maximise that undercut, they have done away altogether with a horizontal inlet. Instead, there are two narrow vertical slats to direct air towards the radiators. This opens up the space even further for greater airflow mass, which should have a corresponding impact on downforce and performance.

The other key innovation is two large horizontal shoulders running backwards from the cockpit on either side of the engine to the rear of the car.

BBC Sport asked Newey what these were, and he said he could not say. He has always been cagey about his designs, especially when they first emerge.

“We’ve had to push over the winter,” Newey said on stage. “We have made some improvements to the car in all areas – mechanical, vehicle dynamics and aerodynamics.

“Is that enough? Who knows? That’s the thing about F1. We know what we have done.

“From the shakedown at Silverstone [this week], it seems from what we can tell it’s behaved as expected it to. But that is no guarantee of anything. It could be that some teams have made a bigger jump than us.”

Verstappen added: “For sure it’s better. I think we are happy with what we have done. I don’t know how much other people have improved but we are happy. It’s not like we felt we underachieved. We are proud of what we have put on the car.”

How was Verstappen preventing the Horner situation distracting him, the Dutchman was asked?

“I always stay very neutral in everything and I take the emotion out of it,” the three-time champion said.

He was asked whether he hoped Horner was with the team for the long term, and that question, too, was shut down by a PR handler.

Verstappen said: “You will come up with stories again around it and then there is speculation. It is better just not to ask anything around it and just wait for the process.”

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